Africa Fertilizer Summit : Can Beer Bottle Tops Help To Rescue Africa's Soil?

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Over the last few days in Abuja, Nigeria, African heads of state, international donor organizations, private sector firms, farmers’ organizations, senior policy makers, and development institutions have all been meeting to discuss the earth. Well, not the planet Earth as a whole, but the African earth – the soil of the land which is currently losing ‘an estimated $4 billion worth of soil nutrients yearly’. The replenishing of plant nutrients in African soil is considered to be a key factor in the fight against poverty, disease and, critically, famine. TreeHugger often talks about the importance of growing food organically and you can even watch our THTV episode about Organic Farming. However there is concern about the limitations of organic farming. The Africa Fertilizer Summit argues that 'If the world’s 1.5 billion hectares of farm land were farmed organically, we would have enough food for only about 2.4 billion people—leaving more than half the world’s 6.5 billion people without food. Organic sources of mineral nutrients are not available in sufficient quantities to feed sub-Saharan Africa’s current population of about 750 million’. However they go on to say that the expense of mineral fertilizers is prohibitive to African farmers, they pay 'two to four times the average world price'. Ideally mineral fertilizers should be used together with organic fertilizers, which ‘improve soil structure and the soil’s water-holding capacity’, thus reducing the total cost of improving soil fertility. Another key factor is using these fertilizers as effectively as possible. The New Scientist reports this month on how something as simple as beer bottle tops could help to rescue Africa's soil. Andy Coghlan tells us that beer bottle tops ‘make ideal measuring pots for "micro-dosing", a technique that lets farmers focus precious nutrients where they are needed rather than wasting them. The results so far are encouraging… Steve Twomlow of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISCAT), based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, established that about 5 grams of ammonium nitrate is enough to feed three plants: That’s one beer cap full. Conventional scattering of fertilizer uses five capfuls for every three plants… Twomlow found that dabbing the fertilizer dose around the base of a plant once it is knee-high boosts yields by between 30 and 50 per cent… For micro-dosing to work, though, ICRISAT is pressing agribusinesses to make fertilizer available in smaller, more affordable packets.’ The Fertilizer Summit claims that the ‘Judicious use of mineral fertilizers’ is directly related to environmental sustainability as the ‘Higher productivity per unit of land will slow the expansion of farming into marginal land and thus, lessen the threat to Africa’s endangered wildlife and forests.’ Thanks to tippster Guy Scott. Via: The New Scientist and Africa Fertilizer Summit.

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